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Onomatopoeia – A Powerful Way to Improve Your Communication Effectiveness

By October 9, 2013 April 28th, 2019 No Comments
word cloud or message cloud of over 300 figures of speech highlighting onomatopoeai

Find below everything you need to know about Onomatopoeia. It is a word that actually looks like the sound it makes.

It is a Figure of Speech or Rhetorical Term related to sounds. Using it will (dramatically) improve the effectiveness and impact of your communication.

Contrast these two sentences. You’ll quickly see that sound words grab and keep your attention.

  • “The heavy door creaked and groaned in protest as we pried it open.”
  • “The door was really heavy.”

Invite us into your experience. Share the experience with vivid language. Bring your message and stories alive. [Click here for more Figure of Speech posts]

IMPROVE YOUR EFFECTIVENESS

As the communicator, the storyteller, the trainer, the recruiter, the leader, it is your responsibility to ensure you are expressing your ideas to inspire change. So much goes into what we communicate. Context, words, delivery/voice, intent, body language, and more…

Incorporating Figures of Speech into your spoken, written, and social media communication will engage and inspire your audiences to think, feel, and act differently. Onomatopeoeic words will enhance the sensory experience , appealing to more parts of your brain. By appealing to more parts, your audiences will remember more, will pay attention more, and will respond more.

USING FIGURES OF SPEECH

While I include background information, Greek word derivation, and pronunciation, what is most important is the application of each figure of speech.

I tell my consulting customers, workshop participants, coaching clients, and students (I’m an adjunct professor at The Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland), the same thing:

“You never have to remember the actual Greek word for the figure of speech. Just remember the concept and application.”

Improve your communication. Read about more figures of speech: Anadiplosis, Anaphora, Epiphora, Epizeuxis, and Onomatopoeia (this post).

Find these sections below:

  1. Onomatopoeia. Includes a little background, usage, definition, pronunciation, other related figures of speech, and etymology
  2. Guidelines in Using. Follow these guidelines to ensure maximum impact
  3. Onomatopoeic Words. Find over ## sound words from 11 categories
  4. Examples of Onomatopoeia. Find examples from speeches, presentations, presidential addresses, poems, music, and more

1) ONOMATOPOEIA

My definition for a Figure of Speech is:

A Figure of Speech is figurative language in the form of a single word or phrase/clause. It can be repetition, arrangement, word or words, or omission of words. It can be a literal meaning or a specialized meaning. In the end, a figure of speech is used for rhetorical or vivid effect to improve your communication effectiveness in your spoken, written, and on-line communication.

Specific information related to onomatopoeia includes:

Definition Onomatopoeia is derived from Greek and it means, “the making of words.” It is the use or invention of word(s) sounding like or imitating their meaning.
Pronunciation On-o-mah-toh-pea-ah
Also Known as Newnamer, Nominatio, Nominis fictio, Procreatio
Related to Interjections, Phanopoeia
Etymology Derived from the Greek word, ὀνοματοποιία, ὄνομα for “name” and ποιέω for “I make”

2) GUIDELINES IN USING ONOMATOPOEIA

Some people confuse Onomatopoeia and Interjections. An interjection is a word expressing an emotion such as happiness, sadness, joy, sorrow, excitement, pain, wonder, and surprise. Examples of interjections include Aha, Ewwww, Hurrah, Ouch, Oops, and Wow. While some Onomatopoeic words may be used as interjections, most interjections do not imitate sounds.

Here are some guidelines for you to ensure your use of onomatopoeia achieves your communication goals:

Think Deliberately Too much of one type of figure of speech will likely reduce its effectiveness and may cause your audience to miss your emphasis entirely as there are too many instances of it. As such, think deliberately on how and when you will use onomatopoeia.
Keep it Simple  If you were to analyze the greatest speeches, commencement keynotes, and TED Talks, you will find simplicity. Simplicity in words and concepts. Keep your target grade level between the 8th and 10th grade. Ensure your audience is able to readily remember your ideas and apply them to his/her life. Simple always wins the day. Read more about simplifying:  Write to the 10th Grade Level to [Dramatically] Improve Audience Engagement and Talk at the 10th Grade Level – Simplify Your Communication.
Use Your Orchestra In my training and teaching, I share specifics on how to use one’s voice to add (dramatic) impact to your spoken communication. Think of yourself as an orchestra with three main instruments: Your Words, your Body (Language), and your Voice. Using your orchestra effectively, is what separates a good speaker from a great speaker. A good trainer from a great trainer. A good leader from a great leader.

3) ONOMATOPOEIA WORDS

Here are nearly two hundred  onomatopoeic words in 11 categories. Some words are duplicated across categories. Note, most of the words can have an -ed or -ing ending (suffix).

Loud & Powerful – Bam
– Bang
– Bash
– Boom
– Bump
– Crack
– Crashed
– Kaboom
– Pow
– Rumble (earth quake, giant talking and walking)
– Smashed
– Thud
– Thump
– Wham
Voice – Achoo
– Belch
– Burp
– Coo
– Babbling
– Cough
– Crack
– Croaked
– Gargle
– Gibberish
– Hiccup
– Hiss
– Hum
– Moan
– Raspy
– Screech
– Shrieked
– Squeal
– Whisper
Human Sounds – Ahem
– Ahh
– Babble
– Bawl
– Belch
– Blurt
– Brrrrr (cold)
– Burp
– Cackle
– Chatter
– Chomp
– Clap hands
– Coo
– Cough
– Crack/Cracked (his voice cracked)
– Croaked (her voice croaked when)
– Gag
– Gasp
– Gargled (the mouthwash)
– Giggle
– Glub
– Groaned
– Growl
– Grumble (stomach and vocal opposition)
– Grunt
– Gurgle
– Ha-ha
– Hacking
– Hiccup
– Hiss/Hissed
– Hush
– Jingle
– Knock
– Mmmm
– Mumble
– Murmur/Murmured
– Oof
– Pop
– Pow- Psst
– Raspy (voice)
– Rattle
– Retch
– Screech
– Shhh
– Shrieked
– Slap
– Slurp
– Smacked (hand or lips)
– Snap/Snapped
– Sniffed
– Snore
– Snorted
– Sob
– Spit
– Squeaked
– Squeal (with delight)
– Swallow
– Thump
– Tsk, tsk
– Wail (of the baby)
– Whack
– Wheeze
– Whimper
– Whine
– Yawn
Technology, Objects, Devices – Beep
– Bell
– Boing
– Buzz
– Ca-ching by a cash register
– Clacked
– Clang
– Clank
– Clap
– Clatter
– Click
– Clank
– Clink
– Clunk
– Crack
– Crackling (fire)
– Creak
– Crinkle
– Crunch
– Cuckoo
– Ding
– Ding dong
– Flapped
– Flush
– Flutter
– Groan (door)
– Hum/Hummed
– Honk
– Jingle
– Knock
– Pop
– Puff
– Rang/Ring
– Rip
– Scrape
– Snip
– Spray/Sprayed
– Squelch
– Squish
– Squirt
– Swish
– Swoosh
– Tap
– Thud (paper on desk)
– Thump
– Thwack
– Tick
– Tick-tock
– Whip
– Whir/Whirred
– Zap/Zapped
– Zipped
Weather & Nature – Bloop
– Crack
– Crackle
– Crashed
– Drip
– Dribble
– Drip
– Drizzle
– Groaned
– Hiss/Hissed
– Kerplunk
– Pattered
– Pop
– Rip
– Rumble
– Rustled
– Slither
– Slosh
– Splish-splash
– Splash
– Spray
– Sprinkle
– Splat/Splatter
– Squirt
– Trickled
– Whisper
– Whizz
Collisions – Bam
– Bang
– Bump
– Clang
– Clank
– Clap
– Clatter
– Click
– Clink
– Crash
– Crunch
– Ding
– Jingle
– Screech
– Slap
– Smash
– Thud
– Thump
Health – Belch
– Cough
– Gurgle
– Hacking (up a lung)
– Hiccup
– Howl
– Moan
– Raspy
– Retch
– Sob
– Swallow
– Wheeze
– Whisper
Animals & Insects – Baa by sheep
– Bark/Bow-wow by dogs
– Bray by donkeys and zebras
– Buzz by bees/wasps/insects
– Chirp by birds
– Clip-clop by horses
– Cluck by chickens
– Coo by birds
– Croaked by frogs/toads
– Flutter by butterflies
– Growl
– Hiss/Hissed by snakes
– Hoot by owls
– Howled by wolves
– Meow by cats
– Moo by cows
– Neigh by horses, donkeys, zebras
– Oinked by pigs
– Peep by mice
– Purr by cats
– Quack by ducks
– Rib-bit by frogs/toads
– Rattle by snakes
– Roar by lions and tigers
– Sniffed
– Snorted
– Squeal by pigs
– Tweet by birds
– Whinny by horses
– Yap by small dogs
Food & Cooking – Beep
– Bell
– Clink
– Crackle
– Crackling (fire)
– Crinkle
– Crunch
– Ding
– Drip
– Drip-drop
– Fizz/Fizzed/Fizzled
– Gulp/Gulped
– Plop
– Pop
– Ring
– Sizzle/Sizzled
– Slurp
– Snap
Music – Bang/Banged/Banging
– Clash (of cymbals)
– Strum/Strumming
Transportation – Chug
– Clank
– Honk
– Hum
– Revved (its engine)
– Rumble
– Screech
– Smashed
– Sputter
– Toot (your horn)
– Vroom
– Wail of the sirens
– Whizzed
– Whoosh
– Zip
– Zoom/zoomed

4) ONOMATOPOEIA EXAMPLES

Look at the examples below. See how Onomatopoeia is used to dramatically increase the effectiveness and impact of your words. Then experiment, mixing and combining other figures of speech in your written, spoken, and social media communication.

Here are some guidelines for you to ensure your use of onomatopoeia achieves your communication goals:

Todd Rundgren
song,
“Onomatopoeia”
 
Onomatopoeia every time I see ya
My senses tell me hubba
And I just can’t disagree
I get a feeling in my heart that I can’t describe
It’s sort of lub, dub, lub, dub
A sound in my head that I can’t describe
It’s sort of zoom, zip, hiccup, drip
Ding, dong, crunch, crack, bark, meow, whinnie, quack
Onomatopoeia in proximity ya
Rearrange my brain in a strange cacophony
I get a feeling somewhere that I can’t describe
It’s sort of uh, uh, uh, uh
A sound in my head that I can’t describe
It’s sort of whack, whir, wheeze, whine
Sputter, splat, squirt, scrape
Clink, clank, clunk, clatter
Crash, bang, beep, buzz
Ring, rip, roar, retch
Twang, toot, tinkle, thud
Pop, plop, plunk, pow
Snort, snuk, sniff, smack
Screech, splash, squish, squeek
Jingle, rattle, squeel, boing
Honk, hoot, hack, belch
YouTube Link to Rudgren singing the song. Original lyrics by John Prine.
Batman TV Series 1960s During every fight scene of the television episode, comic-book style onomatopoeic words would appear on the screen accompanied by corresponding sounds. As the caped crusaders, Batman and Robin battled evil, sound words such as Pow!, Whack! Zlopp! Boff! Zap!, Krunch! Zlott!, and Crash! fill the screen to add a dramatic effect. (watch a few scenes on YouTube)
Example from my Student About a week later, we sent all of our belongings over with airplanes and then {ZOOM,} we flew in an airplane to Athens, Greece.
Example from my Student My next thought was blown completely from my head as we all felt a huge {whoosh} ruffle our clothing. An enormous white van had sped right past us, missing us by a couple of inches at most
Edgar Allan Poe, The Bells,

Excerpt

Published 1849

Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear, it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yet, the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells —
Of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
In the clamour and the clangour of the bells!
Example from my student Early one morning the head pediatrician entered my room asking, “would you be interested in speaking to a group of medical students to share your experience?” I had thought, “why not, I’m tired of laying here doing nothing, sulking in pain.” I ate, drank, laid, slept, walked. Nothing helped. Every four hours I’d hear {Beep, Beep, Beep}, alerting me that I am due for the much-anticipated dose of morphine.
Example from my student As we were standing around the lava, my friend Zach asked, “do you see that?” Then {CRACK!} A rock broke into oozing lava. I thought to myself, “this is the coolest thing I have seen in my entire life.”

REFERENCES

* This post updated April 2019
Photography Source:  Message Cloud/Word Cloud © Copyright 2019, The Chief Storyteller®, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Ira Koretsky

About Ira Koretsky

Ira Koretsky has built The Chief Storyteller® into one of the most recognized names in business storytelling. He has delivered over 500 keynote presentations and workshops in nearly a dozen countries, in more than one hundred cities, across 30 plus industries. His specialties are simplifying the complex and communicating when the stakes are high. He is also an adjunct professor in public speaking and storytelling at the University of Maryland's Business School. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, trainer, consultant, and executive communication coach.